GUEST POST: Exposed Living

GUEST POST: Exposed Living

Photographer Martin van den Akker shares his experience of trying to understand the workings of his body and mind.

November 28, 2014

“In every man’s heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty.” – Christopher Morley

Hi, my name is Martin.

Some eight years ago, my life took an interesting turn. What started as a mild fatigue, eventually turned into a challenging neurological condition. On bad days, I struggle to get outside or even walk more than a few hundred meters at a time. From the onset of the first symptoms I searched for medical advice, which resulted in varying diagnoses. Depression, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia were all mentioned frequently. In more recent years a few doctors diagnosed me with Lyme disease. While I have a Lyme diagnosis, I feel it is our best guess at this stage. It is a controversial diagnosis and treatment, not recognized by a lot of health professionals. This uncertainty in the healthcare system towards Lyme disease adds an extra challenging layer to my journey.

Despite having some physical setbacks, I’m a guy with an active brain. It hardly ever stops whirring, like the coffee maker at Tim Horton’s. Since most doctors seem in the dark about what to do with patients like me, in an attempt to find solutions to my health issues, I aim to understand the workings of my body and mind. By now it feels like I have tried it all: from potent drugs to holistic therapies. When my energy allows for it, I research websites and books trying to find more information about neurological conditions. I search for the latest promising therapies to cleanse my body and mind.

I read about individuals with a similar health crisis and talk to fellow fighters in person. What I find time after time is the same story. There is a lot of suffering. There is a lot of misunderstanding. The list of doctor visits is long. There is no one-fits-all solution in terms of treating neurological conditions. Much like mapping all living creatures in our vast oceans, there is a lot we know about the brain, but there is an overwhelming amount we don’t.

This is where the Branch Out Foundation and neuroCAM comes into the picture for me. Research is needed, and much more of it. As many mental health disorders and physical neurological illnesses are still mysterious, now is the time to invest in alternative approaches to healing.

Lyme disease (or whatever bug I’m fighting) has robbed me of my energy and a significant part of my life. I once participated actively in society with a full time job and plenty of energy to enjoy many intensive outdoor activities. In recent years, much of life is spent resting at home, with only short outings into nature or to the local coffee shop being the treat of my day.

I have learned to appreciate the small things in life. Not surprisingly I have discovered photography being something I can still pursue with a passion (and a bit of planning and patience). I still venture outside on most days, even if my legs can’t go far, or if my body would rather stay in bed. My outings aren’t necessarily long enough to be qualified as exciting missions or expeditions, but they are short and frequent: in the forest behind our house, along the nearby creek or to the river that runs through our mountain town.

Nature soothes and heals, and maybe most importantly, it distracts me from the daily realities such as weakness, worry and desperation. When I am on my knees on the ground looking at a small flower, a dew drop or an ice crystal, time ceases to exist. Pain dissolves into the background for a while, and I am grateful for the brief relief.

The fact that life and my health slowed me down to a pace and strength of a snail, was a catalyzer for my photography and writing. If we look for it, so often a crisis also offers a gift in disguise. And in this case, the gift was having enough time to read, write and dive deeply into what life and nature has to offer.

I have dedicated a website to my photography and writing. In my blog I describe my connection to nature and my sometimes feeble, and funny efforts to become more mindful and present in life. My website and blog can be found at